Self-Reliance Questions and Answers
by Ralph Waldo Emerson

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In Emerson's "Self Reliance," how does one define "society" and one's place in it?

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Society is the force one must push back against to achieve self-reliance and learn to understand one's individual destiny, according to Emerson. Society is the collective force of conformity that bends individuals to its will through tradition, family, and education, keeping itself strong at the expense of not allowing people to follow their inner leadings. Emerson asserts that society is undergirded by an "unintelligent brute force." It is a collective to which we surrender our "liberty." He also says that the collective force of society ensures that

our arts, our occupations, our marriages, our religion, we have not chosen, but society has chosen for us.

Emerson, therefore, strongly encourages young people to look into their own souls and find out for themselves what they are meant to do, without relying on parents, families, or traditions. Every heart vibrates to its own string, Emerson says, and the individual has to honor that, even if it upsets one's family or community.

Emerson...

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